Sunday Salon: #Diverseathon

The Sunday SalonDuring Trump’s first nine days in office I have been constantly thinking about civil rights, women’s rights…human rights, basically, and how they are being threatened and outright denied. As well as doing practical things to help – donating to refugee charities and subscribing to newspapers that I feel are doing vitally necessary journalism – I also wanted to base my reading around these subjects. And then I heard there was already a BookTube project to do just that.

#Diverseathon runs from 22 January to the end of today and is co-hosted by Simon Savidge, Monica Watson, Christina Marie and Joce. The primary aim is to encourage everyone to read more diversely, but there are some more specific goals. There was a group read of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which I didn’t join, but I’ve thought the book sounded fascinating since I first heard about it on the Slate Represent podcast.

The other goal is to read “own voices” – that is, authors writing from their own perspective. Not necessarily non-fiction, though that’s the most direct way to learn about other people’s experiences. And this all ties into encouraging publishers to publish more diverse writers. But that’s not to disparage the allies in this arena: the white authors talking about race relations, straight authors writing about LGBTQ issues, male authors writing about feminism and women’s rights.

So I lined myself up four books to read for #Diverseathon, and of course I only managed to actually read one before today. But I fully intend to read the other three next:

Negroland by Margo Jefferson
Publisher’s description: Pulitzer Prize-winning cultural critic Margo Jefferson was born in 1947 into upper-crust black Chicago. Her father was head of paediatrics at Provident Hospital, while her mother was a socialite. In these pages, Jefferson takes us into this insular and discerning society: “I call it Negroland,” she writes, “because I still find ‘Negro’ a word of wonders, glorious and terrible.”

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Publisher’s description: Set in South Carolina during 1964, this is the story of a 14-year-old white girl, Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily’s fierce-hearted black housekeeper and “stand-in mother” Rosaleen insults three racists in town, they run away to Tiburon, South Carolina, a town that holds the secret to her mother’s past. Taken in by an eccentric trio of black bee-keeping sisters, Lily finds refuge in their mesmerizing world of bees, honey and the Black Madonna, and starts a journey as much about her understanding of the world as about the mystery surrounding her mother.

HERmione by Hilda Doolittle
Publisher’s description: In writing this autobiographical novel, HD returned to a year in her life that was “peculiarly blighted”. She was in her early twenties – “a disappointment to her father, an odd duckling to her mother, an importunate, overgrown, unincarnated entity that had no place.” An intense relationship with Fayne Rabb (Frances Josepha Gregg), an odd girl who was, if not lesbian, then certainly bisexual, brought an atmosphere that made her hold on everyday reality more tenuous. This stormy course led to mental breakdown, then to a turning point and a new beginning as her own true self, as “Her” – the poet HD.

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
Publisher’s description: The riveting story of Therese Belivet, a stage designer trapped in a department-store day job, whose salvation arrives one day in the form of Carol Aird, an alluring suburban housewife in the throes of a divorce. They fall in love and set out across the United States, pursued by a private investigator. First published under the pseudonym Claire Morgan because Highsmith did not want to be tagged as “a lesbian-book writer”, and because of the use of her own life references for characters and occurrences in the story.

These are all relative newcomers to my TBR, which I think shows that the question of reading diversely has been on my mind in recent months, not just this past week. Even if Trump’s Refugee Ban is quickly overturned, as I hope it will be, these issues are not going away. And it’s not just the US. The UK government has for now shelved plans to pull out of the European Convention on Human Rights, but it’s still in their long-term plan. I am very concerned.

As David Tennant said so eloquently, this is a time to be “positively rebellious and rebelliously positive”.  Reading diversely might not seem like much of a positive or rebellious action to take, but the more we understand about other people and other experiences, the better position we are in to talk persuasively to those who fear or deny equality to people unlike themselves. And if enough of us read more diversely, then publishers will take notice and publish more diverse authors, getting those voices out there more widely.

We fear what we do not understand. So let’s try to understand.